We shall not, therefore, be deterred by the cry of "blasphemy," which is exactly what the Jewish priests shouted against Jesus Christ. If there is a God, he cannot be half so stupid and malignant as the Bible declares. In destroying the counterfeit we do not harm the reality. And as it is better, in the words of Plutarch, to have no notion of the gods than to have notions which dishonor them, we are satisfied that the Lord (if he exist) will never burn us in hell for denying a few lies told in his name.
The real blasphemers are those who believe in God and blacken his character; who credit him with less knowledge than a child, and less intelligence than an idiot; who make him quibble, deceive, and lie; who represent him as indecent, cruel, and revengeful; who give him the heart of a savage and the brain of a fool. These are the blasphemers.
When the priest steps between husband and wife, with the name of God on his lips, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he resists education and science, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he opposes freedom of thought and liberty of conscience, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he robs, tortures, and kills those who differ from him, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he opposes the equal rights of all, he blasphemes. When, in the name of God, he preaches content to the poor and oppressed, flatters the rich and powerful, and makes religious tyranny the handmaiden of political privilege, he blasphemes. And when he takes the Bible in his hand, and says it was written by the inspiration of God, he blasphemes almost beyond forgiveness.
Who are the blasphemers? Not we who preach freedom and progress for all men; but those who try to bind the world with chains of dogma, and to burden it, in God's name, with all the foul superstitions of its ignorant past.
THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
"The time draws near, the birth of Christ," as Tennyson sings in "In Memoriam," and the pious followers of the Nazarene will celebrate it with wonted orgies of pleasure. The Incarnation will be pondered to the accompaniment of roast beef, and the Atonement will play lambently around the solid richness of plum-pudding. And thus will be illustrated the biological truth that the stomach is the basis of everything, including religion.
But while Christians comport themselves thus in presence of the subtlest mysteries of faith, the Sceptic cannot be without his peculiar reflections. He, of course, knows that the festal observance of this season is far more ancient than Christianity; but he naturally wonders how people, who imagine it to be a unique feature of their sublimely spiritual creed, remain contented with its extremely sensual character. They profess to believe that the fate of the whole human race was decided by the advent of the Man of Sorrows; yet they commemorate that event by an unhealthy consumption of the meat which perisheth, and a wild indulgence in the frivolous pleasures of that carnal mind which is at enmity with God. Astonished at such conduct, the Sceptic muses on the inconsistency of mankind. He may also once more consider the circumstances of the birth of Christ and its relation to the history of the modern world.
Jesus, called the Christ, is popularly supposed to have been of the seed of David, from which it was promised that the Messiah should come. It is, however, perfectly clear that he was in no-wise related to the man after God's own heart His putative father, Joseph, admittedly had no share in bringing him into the world; for he disdained the assistance of a father, although he was unable to dispense with that of a mother. But Joseph, and not Mary, according to the genealogies of Matthew and Luke, was the distant blood relation of David; and therefore Jesus was not of the seed of the royal house, but a bastard slip grafted on the ancient family-tree by the Holy Ghost. It is a great pity that newspaper correspondents did not exist in those days. Had Joseph been skilfully "interviewed," it is highly probable that the world would have been initiated into his domestic secrets, and enlightened as to the paternity of Mary's eldest son. The Holy Ghost is rather too shadowy a personage to be the father of a lusty boy, and no young lady would be credited in this age if she ascribed to him the authorship of a child born out of wedlock. Most assuredly no magistrate would make an order against him for its maintenance. Even a father of the Spiritualist persuasion, who believed in what is grandly called "the materialisation of spirit forms," would probably be more than dubious if his daughter were to present him with a grandson whose father lived on the other side of death and resided in a mansion not made with hands. It is, we repeat, to be for ever regretted that poor Joseph has not left his version of the affair. The Immaculate Conception might perhaps have been cleared up, and theology relieved of a half-obscene mystery, which has unfortunately perverted not a few minds.
The birth of Jesus was announced to "wise men from the East" by the appearance of a singular star. Is not this a relic of astrology? Well does Byron sing—
"Ye stars! which are the poetry of heaven, If in your bright beams we would read the fate Of men and empires, 'tis to be forgiven, That in our aspirations to be great Our destinies o'erleap their mortal state, And claim a kindred with you; for ye are A beauty and a mystery, and create In us such love and reverence from afar That fortune, fame, power, life, Have named themselves a star."
But this star was the most wonderful on record. It "went before" the wise men, and "stood over where the young child was." Such an absurdity could be related and credited only by people who conceived of the sky as a solid vault, not far distant, wherein all the heavenly bodies were stuck. The present writer once asked an exceedingly ignorant and simple man where he thought he would alight if he dropped from the comet then in the sky. "Oh," said he, naming the open space nearest his own residence, "somewhere about Finsbury Circus." That man's astronomical notions were very imperfect, but they were quite as good as those of the person who seriously wrote, and of the persons who seriously believe, this fairy tale of the star which heralded the birth of Christ.
Luke's version of the episode differs widely from Matthew's. He makes no reference to "wise men from the East," but simply says that certain "shepherds" of the same country, who kept watch over their flock by night, were visited by "the angel of the Lord," and told that they would find the Savior, Christ the Lord, just born at Bethlehem, the City of David, "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." Luke does not, as is generally supposed, represent Mary as confined in a stable because Joseph was too poor to pay for decent accommodation, but because "there was no room for them in the inn." It is perfectly consistent with all the Gospel references to Joseph's status to assume that he carried on a flourishing business, and Jesus himself in later years might doubtless have earned a good living in the concern if he had not deliberately preferred to lead the life of a mendicant preacher. This, however, is by the way. Our point is that Luke says nothing about the "star" or the "wise men from the East," who had an important interview with Herod himself; while Matthew says nothing about the "manger" or the shepherds and their angelic visitors. Surely these discrepancies on points so important, and as to which there could be little mistake, are enough to throw discredit on the whole story.
It is further noticeable that Luke is absolutely silent about Herod's massacre of the innocents. What can we think of his reticence on such a subject? Had the massacre occurred, it would have been widely known, and the memory of so horrible a deed would have been vivid for generations. Matthew, or whoever wrote the Gospel which bears his name, is open to suspicion. His mind was distorted by an intense belief in prophecy, a subject which, as old Bishop South said, either finds a man cracked or leaves him so. After narrating the story of Herod's massacre, he adds: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy, the prophet, saying," etc. Now, he makes similar reference to prophecy no less than five times in the first two chapters, and in each case we find that the "prophetical" utterance referred to has not the faintest connexion with the incident related.
Besides, a man who writes history with one eye on his own period, and the other on a period centuries anterior is not likely to be veracious, however earnestly he may intend to. There is an early tradition, which is as strong as any statement about the history of the Primitive Church, that Matthew's Gospel was originally written in Hebrew; and it has been supposed that the writer gratuitously threw in these references to Jeremy and others, in order to please the Jews, who were extremely fond of prophecy. But this supposition is equally fatal to his credibility as an historian. In any case, the Evangelists differ so widely on matters of such interest and importance that we are constrained to discredit their story. It is evidently, as scholarship reveals, a fairy tale, which slowly gathered round the memory of Jesus after his death. Some of its elements were creations of his disciples' fancy, but others were borrowed from the mythology of more ancient creeds.
Yet this fairy tale is accepted by hundreds of millions of men as veritable history. It is incorporated into the foundation of Christianity, and every year at this season its incidents are joyously commemorated. How slowly the world of intelligence moves! But let us not despair. Science and scholarship have already done much to sap belief in this supernatural religion, and we may trust them to do still more. They will ultimately destroy its authority by refuting its pretensions, and compel it to take its place among the general multitude of historic faiths.
If Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Deliverer, why is the world still so full of sin and misery? The Redeemer has come, say the Christians. Yes, we reply, but when will come the redemption? Apostrophising Jesus in his lines "Before a Crucifix," Mr. Swinburne reminds him that "the nineteenth wave of the ages rolls now usward since thy birth began," and then inquires:—
"Hast thou fed full men's starved-out souls, Or are there less oppressions done In this wide world under the sun?"
Only a negative answer can be given. Christ has in no wise redeemed the world. He was no god of power, but a weak fallible man like ourselves; and his cry of despair on the cross might now be repeated with tenfold force. The older myth of Prometheus is truer and more inspiring than the myth of Christ. If there be gods, they have never yielded man aught of their grace. All his possessions have been cunningly, patiently, and valorously extorted from the powers that be, even as Prometheus filched the fire from heaven. In that realm of mythology, whereto all religions will eventually be consigned, Jesus will dwindle beneath Prometheus. One is feminine, and typifies resigned submission to a supernatural will; the other is masculine, and typifies that insurgent audacity of heart and head, which has wrested a kingdom of science from the vast empire of nescience, and strewed the world with the wrecks of theological power.
THE REIGN OF CHRIST.
Christmas and Easter are fruitful in panegyrics on Jesus and the religion which fraudulently bears his name. On these occasions, not only the religious but even the secular newspapers give the rein to their rhetoric and imagination, and indulge in much fervid eloquence on the birth or the crucifixion of the Nazarene. Time-honored platitudes are brought out from their resting-places and dexterously moved to a well-known tune; and fallacies which have been refuted ad nauseam are paraded afresh as though their logical purity were still beyond suspicion. Papers that differ on all other occasions and on all other subjects concur then, and "when they do agree their unanimity is wonderful." While the more sober and orthodox discourse in tones befitting their dignity and repute, the more profane riotously join in the chorus; and not to be behind the rest, the notoriously misbelieving Greatest Circulator orders from the profanest member of its staff "a rousing article on the Crucifixion," or on the birth of Jesus, as the case may be. All this, however, is of small account, except as an indication of the slavery of our "independent" journals to Bumble and his prejudices, before whom they are obliged to masquerade when he ordains a celebration of his social or religious rites. But here and there a more serious voice is heard through the din, with an accent of earnest veracity, and not that of an actor playing a part. Such a voice may be worth listening to, and certainly no other can be. Let us hear the Rev. J. Baldwin Brown on "The Reign of Christ." He is, I believe, honorably distinguished among Dissenters; his sermons often bear marks of originality; and the goodness of his heart, whatever may be thought of the strength of his head, is sufficiently attested by his emphatic revolt against the doctrine of Eternal Torture in Hell.
Before criticising Mr. Brown's sermon in detail I cannot help remarking that it is far too rhetorical and far too empty of argument. Sentimentality is the bane of religion in our day; subservience to popularity degrades the pulpit as it degrades the press. If we desire to find the language of reason in theology, we must seek it in the writings of such men as Newman, who contemplate the ignorant and passionate multitude with mingled pity and disdain. The "advanced" school of theologians, from Dean Stanley to the humblest reconciler of reason and faith, are sentimentalists almost to a man; the reason being, I take it, that although their emotional tendencies are very admirable, they lack the intellectual consistency and rigor which impel others to stand on definite first principles, as a sure basis of operation and an impregnable citadel against attack. Mr. Brown belongs to this "advanced" school, and has a liberal share of its failings. He is full of eloquent passages that lead to nothing, and he excites expectations which are seldom if ever satisfied. He faces stupendous obstacles raised by reason against his creed, and just as we look to see him valiantly surmount them, we find that he veils them from base to summit with a dense cloud of words, out of which his voice is heard asking us to believe him on the other side. Yet of all men professional students of the Bible should be freest from such a fault, seeing what a magnificent masterpiece it is of terse and vigorous simplicity. Mr. Brown and his "advanced" friends would do well to ponder that quaint and pregnant aphorism of old Bishop Andrewes—"Waste words addle questions." When I first read it I was thrown into convulsions of laughter, and even now it tickles my risibility; but despite its irresistible quaint-ness I cannot but regard it as one of the wisest and pithiest sentences in our literature. Dr. Newman has splendidly amplified it in a passage of his "University Sermons," which I gratuitously present to Mr. Brown and every reader who can make use of it:—"Half the controversies in the world are verbal ones; and could they be brought to a plain issue, they would be brought to a prompt termination. Parties engaged in them would then perceive, either that in substance they agreed together, or that their difference was one of first principles. This is the great object to be aimed at in the present age, though confessedly a very arduous one. We need not dispute, we need not prove,—we need but define. At all events, let us, if we can, do this first of all; and then see who are left for us to dispute with, and what is left for us to prove."
Mr. Brown's sermon on "The Reign of Christ" is preached from a verse of St. Paul's first Epistle to Timothy, wherein Jesus is styled "The blessed and only Potentate." From this "inspired" statement he derives infinite consolation. This, he admits, is far from being the best of all possible worlds, for it is full of strife and cruelty, the wail of anguish and the clamor of frenzy; but as Christ is "the blessed and only Potentate," moral order will finally be evolved from the chaos and good be triumphant over evil. Now the question arises: Who made the chaos and who is responsible for the evil? Not Christ, of course: Mr. Brown will not allow that. Is it the Devil then? Oh no! To say that would be blasphemy against God. He admits, however, that the notion has largely prevailed, and has even been formulated into religious creeds, "that a malignant spirit, a spirit who loves cursing as God loves blessing, has a large and independent share in the government of the world." But, he adds, "in Christendom men dare not say that they believe it, with the throne of the crucified and risen Christ revealed in the Apocalypse to their gaze." Ordinary people will rub their eyes in sheer amazement at this cool assertion. Is it not plain that Christians in all ages have believed in the power and subtlety of the Devil as God's sleepless antagonist? Have they not held, and do they not still hold, that he caused the Fall of Adam and Eve, and thus introduced original sin, which was certain to infect the whole human race ever afterwards until the end of time? Was not John Milton a Christian, and did he not in his "Paradise Lost" develope all the phases of that portentous competition between the celestial and infernal powers for the virtual possession of this world and lordship over the destinies of our race? If we accept Mr. Brown's statements we shall have to reverse history and belie the evidence of our senses.
But who is responsible for the moral chaos and the existence of evil? That is the question. If to say Christ is absurd, and to say the Devil blasphemy, what alternative is left? The usual answer is: Man's freewill. Christ as "the blessed and only Potentate" leaves us liberty of action, and our own evil passions cause all the misery of our lives. But who gave us our evil passions? To this question no answer is vouchsafed, and so we are left exactly at the point from which we started. Yet Mr. Brown has a very decided opinion as to the part these "evil passions" play in the history cf mankind. He refers to them as "the Devil's brood of lust and lies, and wrongs and hates, and murderous passion and insolent power, which through all the ages of earth's sad history have made it liker hell than heaven." No Atheist could use stronger language. Mr. Brown even believes that our "insurgent lusts and passions" are predetermining causes of heresy, so that in respect both to faith and to works they achieve our damnation. How then did we come by them? The Evolutionist frankly answers the question without fear of blasphemy on the one hand or of moral despair on the other. Mr. Brown is bound to give his answer after raising the question so vividly. But he will not. He urges that it "presents points of tremendous difficulty," although "we shall unravel the mystery, we shall solve the problems in God's good time." Thus the solution of the problem is to be postponed until we are dead, when it will no longer interest us. However convenient this may be for the teachers of mystery, it is most unsatisfactory to rationalists. Mr. Brown must also be reminded that the "tremendous difficulties" he alludes to are all of his own creation. There is no difficulty about any fact except in relation to some theory. It is Mr. Brown's theory of the universe which creates the difficulties. It does not account for all the facts of existence—nay, it is logically contravened by the most conspicuous and persistent of them. Instead of modifying or transforming his theory into accordance with the facts, he rushes off with it into the cloud-land of faith. There let him remain as he has a perfect right to. Our objection is neither to reason nor to faith, but to a mischievous playing fast and loose with both.
Mr. Brown opines that Christ will reign until all his enemies are under his feet. And who are these enemies? Not the souls of men, says Mr. Brown, for Christ "loves them with an infinite tenderness." This infinite tenderness is clearly not allied to infinite power or the world's anguish would long since have been appeased and extinguished, or never have been permitted to exist at all. The real enemies of Christ are not the souls of men, but "the hates and passions which torment them." Oh those hates and passions! They are the dialectical balls with which Mr. Brown goes through his performance in that circle of petitio principii so hated by all logicians, the middle sphere of intellects too light for the solid earth of fact and too gross for the aerial heaven of imagination.
It will be a fitting conclusion to present to Mr. Brown a very serious matter which he has overlooked. Christ, "the blessed and only Potentate," came on earth and originated the universal religion nearly two thousand years ago. Up to the present time three-fourths of the world's inhabitants are outside its pale, and more than half of them have never heard it preached. Amongst the quarter which nominally professes Christianity disbelief is spreading more rapidly than the missionaries succeed in converting the heathen; so that the reign of Christ is being restricted instead of increased. To ask us, despite this, to believe that he is God, and possessed of infinite power, is to ask us to believe a marvel compared with which the wildest fables are credible, and the most extravagant miracles but as dust in the balance.
THE PRIMATE ON MODERN INFIDELITY.
A bishop once twitted a curate with preaching indifferent orthodoxy. "Well," answered the latter, "I don't see how you can expect me to be as orthodox as yourself. I believe at the rate of a hundred a year, and you at the rate of ten thousand." In the spirit of this anecdote we should expect an archbishop to be as orthodox as the frailty of human nature will allow. A man who faithfully believes at the rate of fifteen thousand a year should be able to swallow most things and stick at very little. And there can be no doubt that the canny Scotchman who has climbed or wriggled up to the Archbishopric of Canterbury is prepared to go any lengths his salary may require. We suspect that he regards the doctrines of the Church very much as did that irreverent youth mentioned by Sidney Smith, who, on being asked to sign the Thirty-nine Articles, replied "Oh yes, forty if you like." The clean linen of his theology is immaculately pure. Never has he fallen under a suspicion of entertaining dangerous or questionable opinions, and he has in a remarkable degree that faculty praised by Saint Paul of being all things to all men, or at least as many men as make a lumping majority. What else could be expected from a Scotchman who has mounted to the spiritual Primacy of England?
His Grace has recently been visiting the clergy and churchwardens of his diocese and delivering what are called Charges to them. The third of these was on the momentous subject of Modern Infidelity, which seems to have greatly exercised his mind. This horrid influence is found to be very prevalent, much to the disconcertion of his Grace, who felt constrained to begin his Charge with expressions of despondency, and only recovered his spirits towards the end, where he confidently relies on the gracious promise of Christ never to forsake his darling church. Some of the admissions he makes are worth recording—
"I can," he says, "have no doubt that the aspect of Christian society in the present day is somewhat troubled, that the Church of Christ and the faith of Christ are passing through a great trial in all regions of the civilised world, and not least among ourselves. There are dark clouds on the horizon already breaking, which may speedily burst into a violent storm.... It is well to note in history how these two evils—superstition and infidelity—act and react in strengthening each other. Still, I cannot doubt that the most [? more] formidable of the two for us at present is infidelity.... It is indeed a frightful thought that numbers of our intelligent mechanics seem to be alienated from all religious ordinances, that our Secularist halls are well filled, that there is an active propagandism at work for shaking belief in all creeds."
These facts are of course patent, but it is something to get an Archbishop to acknowledge them, His Grace also finds "from above, in the regions of literature and art, efforts to degrade mankind by denying our high original:" the high original being, we presume, a certain simple pair called Adam and Eve, who damned themselves and nearly the whole of their posterity by eating an apple six thousand years ago. The degradation of a denial of this theory is hardly perceptible to untheological eyes. Most candid minds would prefer to believe in Darwin rather than in Moses even if the latter had, which he has not, a single leg to stand on. For the theory of our Simian origin at least involves progression in the past and perhaps salvation in the future of our race, while the "high original" theory involved our retrogression and perdition. His grace wonders how these persons can "confine their hopes and aspirations to a life which is so irresistibly hastening to its speedy conclusion." But surely he is aware that they do so for the very simple reason that they know nothing of any other life to hope about or aspire to. One bird in the hand is worth twenty in the bush when the bush itself remains obstinately invisible, and if properly cooked is worth all the dishes in the world filled only with expectations. His grace likewise refers to the unequal distribution of worldly goods, to the poverty and misery which exist "notwithstanding all attempts to regenerate society by specious schemes of socialistic reorganisation." It is, of course, very natural that an archbishop in the enjoyment of a vast income should stigmatise these "specious schemes" for distributing more equitably the good things of this world; but the words "blessed be ye poor" go ill to the tune of fifteen thousand a year, and there is a grim irony in the fact that palaces are tenanted by men who profess to represent and preach the gospel of him who had not where to lay his head. Modern Christianity has been called a civilised heathenism; with no less justice it might be called an organised hypocrisy.
After a dolorous complaint as to the magazines "lying everywhere for the use of our sons and daughters," in which the doctrines both of natural and of revealed religion are assailed, the Archbishop proceeds to deal with the first great form of infidelity, namely Agnosticism. With a feeble attempt at wit he remarks that the name itself implies a confession of ignorance, which he marvels to find unaccompanied by "the logical result of a philosophical humility." A fair account of the Agnostic position is then given, after which it is severely observed that "the better feelings of man contradict these sophisms." In proof of this, his Grace cites the fact that in Paris, the "stronghold of Atheistical philosophy," the number of burials that take place without religious rites is "a scarcely appreciable percentage." We suspect the accuracy of this statement, but having no statistics on the subject by us, we are not prepared to dispute it. We will assume its truth; but the important question then arises—What kind of persons are those who dispense with the rites of religion? Notoriously they are men of the highest intellect and character, whose quality far outweighs the quantity of the other side. They are the leaders of action and thought, and what they think and do to-day will be thought and done by the masses to-morrow. When a man like Gambetta, occupying such a high position and wielding such immense influence, invariably declines to enter a church, whether he attends the marriage or the funeral of his friends, we are entitled to say that his example on our side is infinitely more important than the practice of millions who are creatures of habit and for the most part blind followers of tradition. The Archbishop's argument tells against his own position, and the fact he cites, when closely examined, proves more for our side than he thought it proved for his own.
Atheism is disrelished by his Grace even more than Agnosticism. His favorite epithet for it is "dogmatic." "Surely," he cries, "the boasted enlightenment of this century will never tolerate the gross ignorance and arrogant self-conceit which presumes to dogmatise as to things confessedly beyond its ken." Quite so; but that is what the theologians are perpetually doing. To use Matthew Arnold's happy expression, they talk familiarly about God as though he were a man living in the next street. The Atheist and the Agnostic confess their inability to fathom the universe and profess doubts as to the ability of others. Yet they are called dogmatic, arrogant, and self-conceited. On the other hand, the theologians claim the power of seeing through nature up to nature's God. Yet they, forsooth, must be accounted modest, humble, and retiring.
"O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!"
These abominable Atheists are by no means scarce, for, says his Grace, "practical Atheists we have everywhere, if Atheism be the denial of God." Just so; that is precisely what we "infidels" have been saying for years. Christianity is utterly alien to the life of modern society, and in flagrant contradiction to the spirit of our secular progress. It stands outside all the institutions of our material civilisation. Its churches still echo the old strains of music and the old dogmatic tones from the pulpit, but the worshippers themselves feel the anomaly of its doctrines and rites when they return to their secular avocations. The Sunday does nothing but break the continuity of their lives, steeping them in sentiments and ideas which have no relation to their experience during the rest of the week. The profession of Christendom is one thing, its practice is another. God is simply acknowledged with the lips on Sunday, and on every other day profoundly disregarded in all the pursuits of life whether of business or of pleasure. Even in our national legislature, although the practice of prayer is still retained, any man would be sneered at as a fool who made the least appeal to the sanctions of theology. An allusion to the Sermon on the Mount would provoke a smile, and a citation of one of the Thirty-nine Articles be instantly ruled as irrelevant. Nothing from the top to the bottom of our political and social life is done with any reference to those theological doctrines which the nation professes to believe, and to the maintenance of which it devotes annually so many millions of its wealth.
In order to pose any member of the two great divisions of "infidelity," the Archbishop advises his clergy to ask the following rather comical questions:—
"Do you believe nothing which is not capable of being tested by the ordinary rules which govern experience in things natural? How then do you know that you yourself exist? How do you know that the perceptions of your senses are not mere delusions, and that there is anything outside you answering to what your mind conceives? Have you a mind? and if you have not, what is it that enables you to think and reason, and fear, and hope? Are these conditions of your being the mere results of your material organism, like the headache which springs from indigestion, or the high spirits engendered by too much wine? Are you something better than a vegetable highly cultivated, or than your brothers of the lower animals? and, if so, what is it that differentiates your superiority? Why do things outside you obey your will? Who gave you a will? and, if so, what is it? I think you must allow that intellect is a thing almost divine, if there be anything divine; and I think also you must allow that it is not a thing to be propagated as we propagate well-made and high-bred cattle. Whence came Alexander the Great? Whence Charlemagne? And whence the First Napoleon? Was it through a mere process of spontaneous generation that they sprang up to alter by their genius and overwhelming will the destinies of the world? Whence came Homer, Shakespeare, Bacon? Whence came all the great historians? Whence came Plato and all the bright lights of divine philosophy, of divinity, of poetry? Their influence, after all, you must allow to be quite as wide and enduring as any produced by the masters of those positive material sciences which you worship. Do you think that all these great minds—for they are minds, and their work was not the product of a merely highly organised material frame—were the outcome of some system of material generation, which your so-called science can subject to rule, and teach men how to produce by growth, as they grow vegetables?"
The Archbishop is not a very skilful physician. His prescription shows that he has not diagnosed the disease. These strange questions might strike the infidel "all of a heap," as the expressive vernacular has it, but although they might dumbfounder him, they would assuredly not convince. If the Archbishop of Canterbury were not so exalted a personage we should venture to remark that to ask a man how he knows that he exists betrays a marvellous depth of ignorance or folly. Ultimate facts of consciousness are not subjects of proof or disproof; they are their own warranty and cannot be transcended. There is, besides, something extraordinary in an archbishop of the church to which Berkeley belonged supposing that extreme idealism follows only the rejection of deity. Whether the senses are after all delusory does not matter to the Atheist a straw; they are real enough to him, they make his world in which he lives and moves, and it is of no practical consequence whether they mirror an outer world or not. What differentiates you from the lower animals? asks his Grace. The answer is simple—a higher development of nervous structure. Who gave you a will? is just as sensible a question as Who gave you a nose? We have every reason to believe that both can be accounted for on natural grounds without introducing a supernatural donor. The question whether Alexander, Napoleon, Homer, Bacon and Shakespeare came through a process of spontaneous generation is excruciatingly ludicrous. That process could only produce the very lowest form of organism, and not a wonderfully complex being like man who is the product of an incalculable evolution. But the Archbishop did not perhaps intend this; it may be that in his haste to silence the "infidel" he stumbled over his own meaning. Lastly, there is a remarkable naivete in the aside of the final question—"for they are minds." He should have added "you know," and then the episode would have been delightfully complete. The assumption of the whole point at issue in an innocent parenthesis is perhaps to be expected from a pulpiteer, but it is not likely that the "infidel" will be caught by such a simple stratagem. All these questions are so irrelevant and absurd that we doubt whether his Grace would have the courage to put one of them to any sceptic across a table, or indeed from any place in the world except the pulpit, which is beyond all risk of attack, and whence a man may ask any number of questions without the least fear of hearing one of them answered.
The invitation given by his grace, to "descend to the harder ground of strictest logical argumentation," is very appropriate. Whether the movement be ascending or descending, there is undoubtedly a vast distance between logical argumentation and anything he has yet advanced. But even on the "harder" ground the Archbishop treads no more firmly. He demands to know how the original protoplasm became endowed with life, and if that question cannot be answered he calls upon us to admit his theory of divine agency, as though that made the subject more intelligible. Supernatural hypotheses are but refuges of ignorance. Earl Beaconsfield, in his impish way, once remarked that where knowledge ended religion began, and the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to share that opinion. His Grace also avers that "no one has ever yet been able to refute the argument necessitating a great First Cause." It is very easy to assert this, but rather difficult to maintain it. One assertion is as good as another, and we shall therefore content ourselves with saying that in our opinion the argument for a great First Cause was (to mention only one name) completely demolished by John Stuart Mill, who showed it to be based on a total misconception of the nature of cause and effect, which apply only to phaenomenal changes and not to the apparently unchangeable matter and force of which the universe is composed.
But the overwhelming last argument is that "man has something in him which speaks of God, of something above this fleeting world, and rules of right and wrong have their foundation elsewhere than in man's opinion.... that there is an immutable, eternal distinction between right and wrong—that there is a God who is on the side of right." Again we must complain of unbounded assertion. Every point of this rhetorical flourish is disputed by "infidels" who are not likely to yield to anything short of proof. If God is on the side of right he is singularly incapable of maintaining it; for, in this world at least, according to some penetrating minds, the devil has hitherto had it pretty much his own way, and good men have had to struggle very hard to make things even as equitable as we find them. But after all, says his Grace, the supreme defence of the Church against the assaults of infidelity is Christ himself. Weak in argument, the clergy must throw themselves behind his shield and trust in him. Before his brightness "the mists which rise from a gross materialistic Atheism evaporate, and are scattered like the clouds of night before the dawn." It is useless to oppose reason to such preaching as this. We shall therefore simply retort the Archbishop's epithets. Gross and materialistic are just the terms to describe a religion which traffics in blood and declares that without the shedding of it there is no remission of sin; whose ascetic doctrines malign our purest affections and defile the sweetest fountains of our spiritual health; whose heaven is nothing but an exaggerated jeweller's shop, and its hell a den of torture in which God punishes his children for the consequences of his own ignorance, incapacity or crime.
BAITING A BISHOP.
Bishops should speak as men having authority, and not as the Scribes and Pharisees. Even the smallest of them should be a great man. An archbishop, with fifteen thousand a year, ought to possess a transcendent intellect, almost beyond comprehension; while the worst paid of all the reverend fathers of the Church, with less than a fifth of that salary, ought to possess no common powers of mind. The Bishop of Carlisle is not rich as bishops go, but he enjoys a yearly income of L4,500, besides the patronage of forty-nine livings. Now this quite equals the salary of the Prime Minister of the greatest empire in the world, and the Bishop of Carlisle should therefore be a truly great man. We regret however, to say that he is very much the reverse, if we may judge from a newspaper report which has reached us of his lecture on "Man's Place in Nature," recently delivered before the Keswick Scientific and Literary Society. Newspaper reports, we know, are often misleading in consequence of their summary character; nevertheless two columns of small type must give some idea of a discourse, however abstruse or profound; here and there, if such occured, a fine thought or a shrewd observation would shine through the densest veil. Yet, unless our vision be exceptionally obtuse, nothing of the kind is apparent in this report of the Bishop's lecture. Being, as his lordship confessed, the development of "a sermon delivered to the men at the Royal Agricultural Society's Show last summer," the lecture was perhaps, like the sermon, adapted to the bucolic mind, and thus does meagre justice to the genius of its author. His lordship, however, chose to read it before a society with some pretentions to culture, and therefore such a plea cannot avail. As the case stands, we are constrained to accuse the bishop of having delivered a lecture on a question of supreme importance, which would do little credit to the president of a Young Men's Christian Association; and when we reflect that a parson occupied the chair at the meeting, and that the vote of thanks to the episcopal lecturer was moved by a canon, who coupled with it some highly complimentary remarks, we are obliged to think the Church more short of brains than even we had previously believed, and that Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin has already been written on its temple walls by the finger of doom.
Very early in his lecture the Bishop observed that "the Scriptures are built on the hypothesis of the supreme and unique position of man." Well, there is nothing novel in this statement. What we want is some proof of the hypothesis. His lordship's way of supplying this need is, to say the least, peculiar. After saying that "he would rather trust the poet as an exponent of man than he would a student of natural history," he proceeds to quote from Shakespeare, Pope and Plato, and ends that part of his argument with a rhetorical flourish, as though he had thus really settled the whole case of Darwin versus Moses. Our reverence of great poets is probably as deep and sincere as the Bishop's, but we never thought of treating them as scientific authorities, or as witnesses to events that happened hundreds of thousands of years before their birth. Poets deal with subjective facts of consciousness, or with objective facts as related to these. The dry light of the intellect, radiated from the cloudless sun of truth, is not their proper element, but belongs exclusively to the man of science. They move in a softer element suffused with emotion, whose varied clouds are by the sun of imagination touched to all forms of beauty and splendor. The scientific man's description of a lion, for instance, would be very different from a poet's; because the one would describe the lion as it is in itself, and the other as it affects us, a living whole, through our organs of sight and sound. Both are true, because each is faithful to its purpose and expresses a fact; yet neither can stand for the other, because they express different facts and are faithful to different purposes. Shakespeare poetically speaks of "the ruddy drops that visit this sad heart," but the scientific truth of the circulation of the blood had to await its Harvey. In like manner, it was not Milton but Newton who expounded the Cosmos; the great poet, like Dante before him, wove pre-existent cosmical ideas into the texture of his sublime epic, while the great scientist wove all the truth of them into the texture of his sublime theory. Let each receive his meed of reverent praise, but do not let us appeal to Newton on poetry or to Milton on physics. And when a Bishop of Carlisle, or other diocese, complains that "the views advanced by scientific men tend painfully to degrade the views of poets and philosophers," let us reply that in almost every case the great truths of science have been found to transcend infinitely the marvels of theology, and that the magnificence of song persists through all fluctuations of knowledge, because its real cause lies less in the subject than in the native grandeur of the poet's mind.
Man's place in nature is, indeed, a great question, and it can be settled only by a wide appeal to past and present facts. And those facts, besides being objective realities, must be treated in a purely scientific, and not in a poetic or didactic spirit. Let the poet sing the beauty of a consummate flower; and, if such things are required, let the moralist preach its lessons. But neither should arrogate the prerogative of the botanist, whose special function it is to inform us of its genesis and development, and its true relations to other forms of vegetable life. So with man. The poet may celebrate his passions and aspirations, his joys and sorrows, his laughter and tears, and ever body forth anew the shapes of things unseen; the moralist may employ every fact of his life to illustrate its laws or to enforce its duties; but they must leave it to the biologist to explain his position in the animal economy, and the stages by which it has been reached. With regard to that, Darwin is authoritative, while Moses is not even entitled to a hearing.
Although the Bishop is very ready to quote from the poets, he is not always ready to use them fairly. For instance, he cites the splendid and famous passage in "Hamlet:"—"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!" There his lordship stops, and then exclaims, "Shakespeare knew nothing of the evolution of man from inferior forms." But why did he not continue the quotation? Hamlet goes on to say, "And yet, what to me is this quintessence of dust?" How now, your lordship? We have you on the hip! "Quintessence of dust" comes perilously near to evolution. Does not your lordship remember, too, Hamlet's pursuing the dust of Caesar to the ignominious bunghole? And have you never reflected how the prescient mind of Shakespeare created an entirely new and wonderful figure in literature, the half-human, half-bestial Caliban, with his god Setebos—a truly marvellous resuscitation of primitive man, that in our day has inspired Mr. Browning's "Caliban on Setebos," which contains the entire essence of all that Tylor and other investigators in the same field have since written on the subject of Animism? It seems that the Lord Bishop of Carlisle reads even the poets to small purpose.
Haughtily waving the biologists aside, his lordship proceeds to remark that "man's superiority is not the same that a dog would claim over a lobster, or an eagle over a worm;" the difference between man and other animals being "not one of degree, but of kind." Such a statement, without the least evidence being adduced to support it, places the Bishop almost outside the pale of civil discussion. When will these lordly ecclesiastics learn that the time for dogmatic assertion is past, and that the intellectual temper of the present age can be satisfied only by proof? We defy the Bishop of Carlisle to indicate a single phase of man's nature which has no parallel in the lower animals. Man's physical structure is notoriously akin to theirs, and even his brain does not imply a distinction of kind, for every convolution of the brain of man is reproduced in the brain of the higher apes. His lordship draws a distinction between instinct and reason, which is purely fanciful and evinces great ignorance of the subject. That, however, is a question we have at present no room to discuss; nor, indeed, is there any necessity to do so, since his lordship presently admits that the lower animals share our "reason" to some extent, just as to a much larger extent we share their "instinct," and thus evacuates the logical fortress he took such pains to construct.
Quitting that ground, which proves too slippery for his feet, the Bishop goes on to notice the moral and aesthetic difference between man and the lower animals. No animal, says his lordship, shows "anything approaching to a love of art." Now we are quite aware that no animal except man ever painted a picture or chiselled a statue, for these things involve a very high development of the artistic faculty. But the appreciation of form and color, which is the foundation of all fine art, is certainly manifested by the lower animals, and by some fathem to an extreme degree. If his lordship doubts this, let him study the ways of animals for himself; or, if he cannot do that, let him read the chapters in Mr. Darwin's "Descent of Man" on sexual selection among birds. If he retains any doubt after that, we must conclude that his head is too hard or too soft to be influenced, in either of which cases he is much to be pitied.
His lordship thinks that the moral sense is entirely absent in the lower animals. This, however, is absurdly untrue; so much so, indeed, that we shall not trouble to refute it Good and noble, he avers, are epithets inapplicable to animals, even to the horse or dog. What vain creatures men are to talk thus! Does his lordship remember Byron's epitaph on his Newfoundland dog, and the very uncomplimentary distinction drawn therein between dogs and men? Look at that big pet with the lordly yet tender eye! How he submits to the boisterous caresses of children, because he knows their weakness and shares their spirit of play! Let their elders do the same, and he will at once show resentment. See him peril his life ungrudgingly for those he loves, or even for comparative strangers! And shall we deny him the epithet of noble or good? Whatever theologians may say, the sound heart of common men and women will answer No!
Lastly, we are told that "the religious sentiment is characteristically and supremely human." But here again we must complain of his lordship's mental confusion. The religious sentiment is not a simple but a highly complex emotion. Resolve it into its elemental feelings, and it will be found that all these are possessed in some degree by lower animals. The feeling of a dog who bays the moon is probably very similar to that of the savage who cowers and moans beneath an eclipse; and if the savage has superstitious ideas as well as awesome feelings, it is only because he possesses a higher development of thought and imagination.
Canon Battersby, who moved the vote of thanks to the Bishop, ridiculed the biologists, and likened them to Topsy who accounted for her existence by saying "Specs I growed." Just so. That is precisely how we all did come into existence. Growth and not making is the law for man as well as for every other form of life. Moses stands for manufacture and Darwin stands for growth. And if the great biologist finds himself in the company of Topsy, he will not mind. Perhaps, indeed, as he is said to enjoy a joke and to be able to crack one, might he jocularly observe to "tremendous personages" like the Bishop of Carlisle, that this is not the first instance of truths being hidden from the "wise" and revealed unto babes.
PROFESSOR FLINT ON ATHEISM.
Professor Flint delivered last week the first of the present year's course of Baird lectures to a numerous audience in Blythswood Church, Glasgow, taking for his subject "The Theories opposed to Theism." Anti-Theism, he said, is more general now than Atheism, and includes all systems opposed to Theism. Atheism he defined as "the system which teaches that there is no God, and that it is impossible for man to know that there is a God." At least this is how Professor Flint is reported in the newspapers, although we hope he was not guilty of so idiotic a jumble.
Where are the Atheists who say there is no God? What are their names? Having mingled much with thoroughgoing sceptics, and read many volumes of heretical literature, we can confidently defy Professor Flint to produce the names of half a dozen dogmatic Atheists, and we will give him the whole world's literature to select from. Does he think that the brains of an Atheist are addled? If not, why does he make the Atheist first affirm that there is no God, and then affirm the impossibility of man's ever knowing whether there is a God or not? How could a man who holds his judgment in suspense, or who thinks the universal mystery insoluble to us, dogmatise upon the question of God's existence? If Professor Flint will carefully and candidly study sceptical literature, he will find that the dogmatic Atheist is as rare a the phoenix, and that those who consider the extant evidences of Theism inadequate, do not go on to affirm an universal negative, but content themselves with expressing their ignorance of Nature's why. For the most part they endorse Thomas Cooper's words, "I do not say there is no God, but this I say, I know not" Of course this modesty of affirmation may seem impiously immodest to one who has been trained and steeped in Theism so long that the infinite universe has become quite explicable to him; but to the sceptic it seems more wise and modest to confess one's ignorance, than to make false pretensions of knowledge.
Professor Flint "characterised the objections which Atheism urges against the existence of God as extremely feeble." Against the existence of what God? There be Gods many and Lords many; which of the long theological list is to be selected as the God? A God, like everything else from the heights to the depths, can be known only by his attributes; and what the Atheist does is not to argue against the existence of any God, which would be sheer lunacy, but to take the attributes affirmed by Theism as composing its Deity and inquire whether they are compatible with each other and with the facts of life. Finding that they are not, the Atheist simply sets Theism aside as not proven, and goes on his way without further afflicting himself with such abstruse questions.
The Atheist must be a very dreary creature, thinks Professor Flint. But why? Does he know any Atheists, and has he found them one half as dreary as Scotch Calvinists? It may seem hard to the immoderately selfish that some Infinite Spirit is not looking after their little interests, but it is assuredly a thousandfold harder to think that this Infinite Spirit has a yawning hell ready to engulph the vast majority of the world's miserable sinners. If the Atheist has no heaven, he has also no hell, which is a most merciful relief. Far better were universal annihilation than that even the meanest life should writhe for ever in hell, gnawed by the worm which never dieth, and burnt in the fire which is never quenched.
Even Nature, thinks Professor Flint, cannot be contemplated by the Atheist as the Theist contemplates it; for while the latter views it as God's vesture wherewith he hides from us his intolerable glory, the latter views it as the mere embodiment of force, senseless, aimless, pitiless, an enormous mechanism grinding on of itself from age to age, but towards no God and for no good. Here we must observe that the lecturer trespasses beyond the truth. The Atheist does not affirm that Nature drives on to no God and no good; he simply says he knows not whither she is driving. And how many Theists are there who think of God in the presence of Nature, who see God's smile in the sunshine, or hear his wrath in the storm? Very few, we opine, in this practical sceptical age. To the Atheist as to the Theist, indeed to all blessed with vision, Nature is an ever new wonder of majesty and beauty! Sun, moon, and stars, earth, air, and sky, endure while the generations of men pass and perish; but every new generation is warmed, lighted, nurtured and gladdened by them with most sovereign and perfect impartiality. The loveliness and infinite majesty of Nature speak to all men, of all ages, climes and creeds. Not in her inanimate beauty do we find fatal objections to the doctrine of a wise and bountiful power which overrules her, but rather in the multiplied horrors, woes, and pangs of sentient life. When all actual and recorded misery is effaced, when no intolerable grief corrodes and no immedicable despair poisons life, when the tears of anguish are assuaged, when crime and vice are unknown and unremembered, and evil lusts are consumed in the fire of holiness; then, and then only, could we admit that a wise and righteous omnipotence rules the universal destinies. Until then we cannot recognise the fatherhood of God, but must find shelter and comfort in the more efficacious doctrine of the brotherhood of Man.
Professor Flint concluded his lecture, according to the newspaper report, thus:—"History bears witness that the declension of religion has ever been the decline of nations, because it has ever brought the decay of their moral life; and people have achieved noble things only when strongly animated by religious faith." All this is very poor stuff indeed to come from a learned professor. What nation has declined because of a relapse from religious belief? Surely not Assyria, Egypt, Greece, or Carthage? In the case of Rome, the decline of the empire was coincident with the rise of Christianity and the decline of Paganism; but the Roman Empire fell abroad mainly from political, and not from religious causes, as every student of history well knows. Christianity, that is the religion of the Bible, has been dying for nearly three centuries; and during that period, instead of witnessing a general degradation of mankind we have witnessed a marvellous elevation. The civilisation of to-day, compared with that which existed before Secular Science began her great battle with a tyrannous and obscurantist Church, is as a summer morn to a star-lit winter night.
Again, it is not true that men have achieved noble things only when strongly animated by religious faith; unless by "religious faith" be meant some vital idea or fervent enthusiasm. The three hundred Spartans who met certain death at Thermopylae died for a religious idea, but not for a theological idea, which is a very different thing. They perished to preserve the integrity of the state to which they belonged. The greatest Athenians were certainly not religious in Professor Flint's sense of the word, and the grand old Roman patriots had scarcely a scintillation of such a religious faith as he speaks of. Their religion was simply patriotism, but it was quite as operant and effective as Christian piety has ever been. Was it religious faith or patriotism which banded Frenchmen together in defiance of all Europe, and made them march to death as a bridegroom hastens to his bride? And in our own history have not our greatest achievers of noble things been very indifferent to theological dogmas? Nay, in all ages, have not the noblest laborers for human welfare been impelled by an urgent enthusiasm of humanity rather than by any supernatural faith? Professor Flint may rest assured that even though all "the old faiths ruin and rend," the human heart will still burn, and virtue and beauty still gladden the earth, although divorced from the creeds which held them in the thraldom of an enforced marriage.
A HIDDEN GOD.
The Christian World is distinguished among religious journals by a certain breadth and vigor. On all social and political subjects it is remarkably advanced and outspoken, and its treatment of theological questions is far more liberal and intelligent than sceptics would expect. Of late years it has opened its columns to correspondence on many topics, some of a watery character, like the reality of Noah's flood, and others of a burning kind, like the doctrine of eternal punishment, on all of which great freedom of expression has been allowed. The editor himself, who is, we suspect, far more sceptical than most of his readers, has had his say on the question of Hell, and it is to be inferred from his somewhat guarded utterance that he has little belief in any such place. This, however, we state with considerable hesitation, for the majority of Christians still regard the doctrine of everlasting torture as indubitable and sacred, and we have no desire to lower him in the estimation of the Christian world in which he labors, or to cast a doubt on the orthodoxy of his creed. But the editor will not take it amiss if we insist that his paper is liberal in its Christianity, and unusually tolerant of unbelief.
Yet, while entitled to praise on his ground, the Christian World deserves something else than praise on another. It has recently published a series of articles for the purpose of stimulating faith and allaying doubt. If undertaken by a competent writer, able and willing to face the mighty difference between Christianity and the scientific spirit of our age, such a series of articles might be well worth reading. We might then admire if we could not agree, and derive benefit from friendly contact with an antagonist mind. But the writer selected for the task appears to possess neither of these qualifications. Instead of thinking he gushes; instead of reason he supplies us with unlimited sentiment. We expect to tread solid ground, or at least to find it not perilously soft; and lo! the soil is moist, and now and then we find ourselves up to the knees in unctuous mud. How difficult it is nowadays to discover a really argumentative Christian! The eminent favorites of orthodoxy write sentimental romances and call them "Lives of Christ," and preach sermons with no conceivable relation to the human intellect; while the apologists of faith imitate the tactics of the cuttle-fish, and when pursued cast out their opaque fluid of sentimentality to conceal their position. They mostly dabble in the shallows of scepticism, never daring to venture in the deeps; and what they take pride in as flashes of spiritual light resembles neither the royal gleaming of the sun nor the milder radiance of the moon, but rather the phosphorescence of corruption.
In the last article of the series referred to, entitled "Thou art a God that Hidest Thyself," there is an abundance of fictitious emotion and spurious rhetoric. From beginning to end there is a painful strain that never relaxes, reminding us of singers who pitch their voices too high and have to render all the upper notes in falsetto. An attempt is made to employ poetical imagery, but it ludicrously fails. The heaven of the Book of Revelation, with its gold and silver and precious stones, is nothing but a magnified jeweller's shop, and a study of it has influenced the style of later writers. At present Christian gushers have descended still lower, dealing not even in gold and jewels, but in Brummagem and paste. The word gem is greatly in vogue. Talmage uses it about twenty times in every lecture, Parker delights in it, and it often figures on the pages of serious books. In the article before us it is made to do frequent service. A promise of redemption is represented as shining gem-like on the brow of Revelation, Elims gem the dark bosom of the universal desert, and the morning gleams on the dew-gemmed earth. Perhaps a good recipe for this kind of composition would be an hour's gloat on the flaming window of a jeweller's shop in the West End.
But let us deal with the purport and purpose of the article. It aims at showing that God hides himself, and why he does so. The fact which it is attempted to explain none will deny. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to see God and converse with him, Abraham and God walked and talked together, and according to St. Paul the Almighty is not far from any one of us. But the modern mind is not prone to believe these things. The empire of reason has been enlarged at the expense of faith, whose provinces have one after another been annexed until only a small territory is left her, and that she finds it difficult to keep. Coincidently, God has become less and less a reality and more and more a dream. The reign of law is perceived everywhere, and all classes of phenomena may be explained without recourse to supernatural power. When Napoleon objected to Laplace that divine design was omitted from his mechanical theory of the universe, the French philosopher characteristically replied: "I had no need of that hypothesis." And the same disposition prevails in other departments of science. Darwin, for instance, undertakes to explain the origin and development of man, physical, intellectual and moral, without assuming any cause other than those which obtain wherever life exists. God is being slowly but surely driven from the domain of intermediate causes, and transformed into an ultimate cause, a mere figment of the imagination. He is being banished from nature into that poetical region inhabited by the gods of Polytheism, to keep company there with Jupiter and Apollo and Neptune and Juno and Venus, and all the rest of that glorious Pantheon. He no longer rules the actual life and struggle of the world, but lives at peace with his old rivals in—
"The lucid interspace of world and world, Where never creeps a cloud or moves a wind, Nor ever falls the least white star of snow, Nor ever lowest roll of thunder moans; Nor sound of human sorrow mounts, to mar Their sacred everlasting calm." *
* Tennyson: "Lucretius."
The essence of all this is admitted by the writer in the Christian World; he admits the facts, but denies the inference. They show us one of God's ways of hiding himself. Order prevails, but it is the expression of God's will, and not a mere result of the working of material forces. He operates by method, not by caprice, and hence the unchanging stability of things. While doing nothing in particular, he does everything in general. And this idea must be extended to human history. God endows man with powers, and allows him freedom to employ them as he will. But, strangely enough, God has a way of "ruling our freedom," and always there is "a restraining and restoring hand." How man's will can be free and yet overruled passes our merely carnal understanding, although it may be intelligible enough to minds steeped in the mysteries of theology. According to this writer, God's government of mankind is a "constitutional kingdom." Quite so. It was once arbitrary and despotic; now it is far milder and less exacting, having dwindled into the "constitutional" stage, wherein the King reigns but does not govern. Will the law of human growth and divine decay stop here? We think not. As the despotism has changed to a constitutional monarchy, so that will change to a republic, and the empty throne be preserved among other curious relics of the past.
God also hides himself in history. Although unapparent on the surface of events, his spirit is potent within them. "What," the writer asks, "is history—with all its dark passages of horror, its stormy revolutions, its ceaseless conflict, its tears, its groans, its blood—but the chronicle of an ever-widening realm of light, of order, of intelligence, wisdom, truth, and charity?" But if we admit the progress, we need not explain it as the work of God. Bunsen wrote a book on "God in History," which a profane wag said should have been called "Bunsen in History;" yet his attempt to justify the ways of God to men was not very successful. It is simply a mockery to ask us to believe that the slow progress of humanity must be attributed to omniscient omnipotence. A God who can evolve virtue and happiness only out of infinite evil and misery, and elevate us only through the agency of perpetual blood and tears, is scarcely a being to be loved and worshipped, unless we assume that his power and wisdom are exceedingly limited. Are we to suppose that God has woven himself a garment of violence, evil, and deceit, in order that we might not see too clearly his righteousness, goodness, and truth?
It must further be observed that Christian Theists cannot be permitted to ascribe all the good in the world to God, and all the evil to man, or else leave it absolutely unexplained. In the name of humanity we protest against this indignity to our race. Let God be responsible for good and evil both, or for neither; and if man is to consider himself chargeable with all the world's wrong, he should at least be allowed credit for all the compensating good.
The theory of evolution is being patronised by Theists rather too fulsomely. Not long ago they treated it with obloquy and contempt, but now they endeavor to use it as an argument for their faith, and in doing so they distort language as only theological controversialists can. Changing "survival of the fittest" into "survival of the best," they transform a physical fact into a moral law; and thus, as they think, take a new north-west passage to the old harbor of "whatever is is right." But while-evolution may be construed as progress, which some would contest, it cannot be construed as the invariable survival of the best; nor, if it were, could the process by which this result is achieved be justified. For evolution works through a universal struggle for existence, in which the life and well-being of some can be secured only through the suffering and final extinction of others; and even in its higher stages, cunning and unscrupulous strength frequently overcomes humane wisdom fettered by weakness. "Nature, red in tooth and claw, with ravin shrieks against the creed" of the Theist. If God is working through evolution, we must admit that he has marvellously hidden himself, and agree with the poet that he does "move in a mysterious way his wonders to perform."
The writer in the Christian World borrows an image from the puling scepticism of "In Memoriam," which describes man as
"An infant crying in the night, And with no language but a cry."
This image of the infant is put to strange use. The writer says that God is necessarily hidden from us because we can grasp "his inscrutable nature and methods" only as "an infant can grasp the thought and purpose of a man." Similes are dangerous things. When it is demanded that they shall run upon all fours, they often turn against their masters. This one does so. The infant grows into a man in due course, and then he can not only grasp the thought and purpose of his father, but also, it may be, comprehend still greater things. Will the infant mind of man, when it reaches maturity, be thus related to God's? If not, the analogy is fallacious. Man is quite mature enough already, and has been so for thousands of years, to understand something of God's thought and purpose if he had only chosen to reveal them. This, however, if there be a God, he has not condescended to do. An appeal to the various pretended revelations of the world serves to convince us that all are the words of fallible men. Their very discord discredits them. As D'Holbach said, if God had spoken, the universe would surely be convinced, and the same conviction would fill every breast.
The reason given for God's hiding himself is very curious. "If," says the writer, "the way of God were not in large measure hidden, it would mean that we could survey all things from the height and the depth of God." Truly an awful contemplation! May it not be that God is hidden from us because there is none to be revealed, that "all the oracles are dumb or cheat because they have no secret to express"?
But, says the writer in the Christian World, there is one revelation of God that can never be gainsaid; "while the Cross stands as earth's most sacred symbol, there can be no utter hiding of his love." This, however, we venture to dispute. That Cross which was laid upon the back of Jesus poor mankind has been compelled to carry ever since, with no Simon to ease it of the load. Jesus was crucified on Calvary, and in his name man has suffered centuries of crucifixion. The immolation of Jesus can be no revelation of God's love. If the Nazarene was God, his crucifixion involves a complicated arrangement for murder; the Jews who demanded his death were divinely instigated, and Judas Iscariot was pre-ordained to betray his master; in which case his treachery was a necessary element of the drama, entitling him not to vituperation but to gratitude, even perhaps to the monument which Benjamin Disraeli suggested as his proper reward. Looking also at the history of Christianity, and seeing how the Cross has sheltered oppressors of mind and body, sanctioned immeasurable shedding of blood, and frightened peoples from freedom, while even now it symbolises all that is reactionary and accursed in Europe, we are constrained to say that the love it reveals is as noxious as the vilest hate.
Mountebank Talmage has just preached a funeral sermon on General Joshua. It is rather behind date, as the old warrior has been dead above three thousand years. But better late than never. Talmage tells us many things about Joshua which are not in the Bible, and some sceptics will say that his panegyric is a sheer invention. They may, however, be mistaken. The oracle of the Brooklyn Jabbernacle is known to be inspired. God holds converse with him, and he is thus enabled to supply us with fresh facts about Jehovah's fighting-cock from the lost books of Jasher and the Wars of the Lord.
Joshua, says Talmage, was a magnificent fighter. We say, he was a magnificent butcher. Jehovah did the fighting.
He was the virtual commander of the Jewish hosts; he won all their victories; and Joshua only did the slaughter. He excelled in that line of business. He delighted in the dying groans of women and children, and loved to dabble his feet and hands in the warm blood of the slain. No "Chamber of Horrors" contains the effigy of any wretch half so bloodthirsty and cruel.
According to Talmage, Joshua "always fought on the right side." Wars of conquest are never right. Thieving other people's lands is an abominable crime. The Jews had absolutely no claim to the territory they took possession of, and which they manured with the blood of its rightful owners. We know they said that God told them to requisition that fine little landed estate of Canaan. Half the thieves in history have said the same thing. We don't believe them. God never told any man to rob his neighbor, and whoever says so lies. The thief's statement does not suffice. Let him produce better evidence. A rascal who steals and murders cannot be believed on his oath, and 'tis more likely that he is a liar than that God is a scoundrel.
Talmage celebrates "five great victories" of Joshua. He omits two mighty achievements. General Joshua circumcised a million and a half Jews in a single day. His greatest battle never equalled that wonderful feat. The amputations were done at the rate of over a thousand a minute. Samson's jaw-bone was nothing to Joshua's knife. This surprising old Jew was as great in oratory as in surgery. On one occasion he addressed an audience of three millions, and everyone heard him. His voice must have reached two or three miles. No wonder the walls of Jericho fell down when Joshua joined in the shout. We dare say the Jews wore ear-preservers to guard their tympanums against the dreadful artillery of his speech.
Joshua's first victory, says Tahnage, was conquering the spring freshet of Jordan. As a matter of fact, Jehovah transacted that little affair. See, says Talmage, "one mile ahead go two priests carrying a glittering box four feet long and two feet wide. It is the Ark of the Covenant." He forgets to add that the Jew God was supposed to be inside it. Jack in the box is nothing to God in a box. What would have happened if the Ark had been buried with Jehovah safely fastened in? Would his godship have mouldered to dust? In that case he would never have seduced a carpenter's wife, and there would have been no God the Son as the fruit of his adultery.
Talmage credits General Joshua with the capture of Jericho. The Bible says that Jehovah overcame it. Seven priests went blowing rams' horns round the city for seven days. On the seventh day they went round it seven times. It must have been tiresome work, for Jericho was a large city several miles in circumference. But priests are always good "Walkers." After the last blowing of horns all the Jews shouted "Down Jericho, down Jericho!" This is Talmage's inspired account. The Bible states nothing of the kind. Just as the Islamites cry "Allah, Il Allah," it is probable that the Jews cried "Jahveh, Jahveh." But Talmage and the Bible both agree that when their shout rent the air the walls of Jericho fell flat—as flat as the fools who believe it.
Then, says Talmage, "the huzza of the victorious Israelites and the groan of the conquered Canaanites commingle!" Ah, that groan! Its sound still curses the Bible God. Men, women and children, were murdered. The very cattle, sheep and asses, were killed with the sword. Only one woman's house was spared, and she was a harlot.
It is as if the German army took Paris, and killed every inhabitant except Cora Pearl. This is inspired war, and Talmage glories in it. He would consider it an honor to be bottle-washer to such a pious hero as General Joshua. When Ai was taken, all its people were slaughtered, without any regard to age or sex. Talmage grins with delight, and cries "Bravo, Joshua!" The King of Ai was reserved for sport. They hung him on a tree and enjoyed the fun. Talmage approves this too. Everything Joshua did was right. Talmage is ready to stake his own poor little soul on that.
Joshua's victory over the five kings calls forth a burst of supernatural eloquence. Talmage pictures the "catapults of the sky pouring a volley of hailstones" on the flying Amorites, and words almost fail him to describe the glorious miracle of the lengthening of the day in order that Jehovah's prize-fighters might go on killing. One passage is almost sublime. It is only one step off. "What," asks Talmage, "is the matter with Joshua? Has he fallen in an apoplectic fit? No. He is in prayer." Our profanity would not have gone to that length. But we take Talmage's word for it that prayer and apoplexy are very much alike.
The five kings were decapitated. "Ah," says Talmage, "I want five more kings beheaded to-day, King Alcohol, King Fraud, King Lust, King Superstition, and King Infidelity." Soft, you priestly calumniator! What right have you to associate Infidelity with fraud and lust? That Freethought, which you call "infidelity," is more faithful to truth and justice than your creed has ever been. And it will not be disposed of so easily as you think. You will never behead us, but we shall strangle you. We are crushing the life out of your wretched faith, and your spasmodic sermons are only the groans of its despair.
Talmage's boldest step on the line which separates the ludicrous from the sublime occurs in his peroration. He makes General Joshua conquer Death by lying down and giving up the ghost, and then asks for a headstone and a foot-stone for the holy corpse. "I imagine," he says, "that for the head it shall be the sun that stood still upon Gibeon, and for the foot the moon that stood still in the valley of Ajalon." This is about the finest piece of Yankee buncombe extant. If the sun and moon keep watch over General Joshua's grave, what are we to do? When we get to the New Jerusalem we shall want neither of these luminaries, for the glory of the Lord will shine upon us. But until then we cannot dispense with them, and we decidedly object to their being retained as perpetual mourners over Joshua's grave. If, however, one of them must do service, we humbly beg that it may be the moon. Let the sun illumine us by day, so that we may see to transact our affairs. And if ever we should long to behold "pale Dians beams" again, we might take Talmage as our guide to the unknown grave of General Joshua, and while they played softly over the miraculous two yards of turf we should see his fitting epitaph—Moonshine.
GOING TO HELL.
Editing a Freethought paper is a dreadful business. It brings one into contact with many half-baked people who have little patent recipes for hastening the millennium; with ambitious versifiers who think it a disgrace to journalism that their productions are not instantly inserted; with discontented ladies and gentlemen who fancy that a heterodox paper is the proper vehicle for every species of complaint; and with a multitude of other bores too numerous to mention and too various to classify. But the worst of all are the anonymous bores, who send their insults, advice, or warnings, through the post for the benefit of the Queen's revenue. We generally pitch their puerile missives into the waste-paper basket; but occasionally we find one diverting enough to be introduced to our readers. A few days ago we received the following lugubrious epistle, ostensibly from a parson in Worcestershire, as the envelope bore the postmark of Tything.
"The fool hath said in his heart 'there is no God'—I have seen one of your blasphemous papers; and I say solemnly, as a clergyman of the Church of England, that I believe you are doing the work of the Devil, and are on the road to hell, and will spend eternity with the Devil, unless God, in his mercy, lead you, by the Holy Spirit, to repentance. Nothing is impossible, with him. A Dean in the Church of England says, 'Be wise, and laugh not through a speck of time, and then wail through an immeasurable eternity.' Except you change your views you will most certainly hear Christ say, at the Judgment Day, 'Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.' (Matt, xxv.)"
This is a tolerably warm, though not very elegant effusion, and it is really a pity that so grave a counsellor should conceal his name; for if it should lead to our conversion, we should not know whom to thank for having turned us out of the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire. Our mentor assures us that with God nothing is impossible. We are sorry to learn this; for we must conclude that he does not take sufficient trouble with parsons to endow them with the courage of their convictions, or to make them observe the common decencies of epistolary intercourse.
This anonymous parson, who acts like an Irish "Moonlighter," and masks his identity while venting his spleen, presumes to anticipate the Day of Judgment, and tells exactly what Jesus Christ will say to us on that occasion. We are obliged to him for the information, but we wonder how he obtained it. The twenty-fifth of Matthew, to which he refers us, contains not a word about unbelievers. It simply states that certain persons, who have treated the Son of Man very shabbily in his distress, shall be sent to keep company with Old Nick and his imps. Now, we have never shown the Son of Man any incivility, much less any inhumanity, and we therefore repudiate this odious insinuation. Whenever Jesus Christ sends us a message that he is sick, we will pay him a visit; if he is hungry, we will find him a dinner; if he is thirsty, we will stand whatever he likes to drink; if he is naked, we will hunt him up a clean shirt and an old suit; and if he is in prison, we will, according as he is innocent or guilty, try to procure his release, or leave him to serve out his term. We should be much surprised if any parson in the three kingdoms would do any more Some of them, we believe, would see him condemned (new version) before they would lift a finger or spend sixpence to-help him.
We are charged with doing the work of the Devil. This is indeed news. We never knew the Devil required any assistance. He was always very active and enterprising, and quite able to manage his own business. And although his rival, Jehovah, is so dotingly senile as to yield up everything to his mistress and her son, no one has ever whispered the least hint of the Devil's decline into the same abject position. But if his Satanic Majesty needed our aid we should not be loth to give it, for after carefully reading the Bible many times from beginning to end, we have come to the conclusion that he is about the only gentleman in it.
We are "on the road to hell." Well, if we must go somewhere, that is just the place we should choose. The temperature is high, and it would no doubt at first be incommodious. But, as old Sir Thomas Browne says, afflictions induce callosities, and in time we should get used to anything.
When once we grew accustomed to the heat, how thankful we should be at having escaped the dreary insipidity of heaven, with its perpetual psalms, its dolorous trumpets, its gruesome elders, and its elderly beasts! How thankful at having missed an eternity with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and all the many blackguards and scoundrels of the Bible! How thankful at having joined for ever the society of Rabelais, Bruno, Spinoza, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, and all the great poets, sages and wits, who possess so much of that carnal wisdom which is at enmity with the pious folly of babes and sucklings!
On the whole, we think it best to keep on our present course. Let the bigots rave and the parsons wail. They are deeply interested in the doctrine of heaven and hell beyond the grave. We believe in heaven and hell on this side of it; a hell of ignorance, crime, and misery; a heaven of wisdom, virtue, and happiness. Our duty is to promote the one and combat the other. If there be a just God, the fulfilment of that duty will suffice; if God be unjust, all honest men will be in the same boat, and have the courage to despise and defy him.
CHRISTMAS EVE IN HEAVEN.
Christmas Eve had come and almost gone. It was drawing nigh midnight, and I sat solitary in my room, immersed in memory, dreaming of old days and their buried secrets. The fire, before which I mused, was burning clear without flame, and its intense glow, which alone lighted my apartment, cast a red tint on the furniture and walls. Outside the streets were muffled deep with snow, in which no footstep was audible. All was quiet as death, silent as the grave, save for the faint murmur of my own breathing. Time and space seemed annihilated beyond those four narrow walls, and I was as a coffined living centre of an else lifeless infinity.
My reverie was rudely broken by the staggering step of a fellow-lodger, whose devotion to Bacchus was the one symptom of reverence in his nature. He reeled up stair after stair, and as he passed my door he lurched against it so violently that I feared he would come through. But he slowly recovered himself after some profane mutterings, reeled up the next flight of stairs, and finally deposited his well-soaked clay on the bed in his own room immediately over mine.
After this interruption my thoughts changed most fancifully. Why I know not, but I began to brood on the strange statement of Saint Paul concerning the man who was lifted up into the seventh heaven, and there beheld things not lawful to reveal. While pondering this story I was presently aware of an astonishing change. The walls of my room slowly expanded, growing ever thinner and thinner, until they became the filmiest transparent veil which at last dissolved utterly away. Then (whether in the spirit or the flesh I know not) I was hurried along through space, past galaxy after galaxy of suns and stars, separate systems yet all mysteriously related.
Swifter than light we travelled, I and my unseen guide, through the infinite ocean of ether, until our flight was arrested by a denser medium, which I recognised as an atmosphere like that of our earth. I had scarcely recovered from this new surprise when (marvel of marvels!) I found myself before a huge gate of wondrous art and dazzling splendor. At a word from my still unseen guide it swung open, and I was urged within. Beneath my feet was a solid pavement of gold. Gorgeous mansions, interspersed with palaces, rose around me, and above them all towered the airy pinnacles of a matchless temple, whose points quivered in the rich light like tongues of golden fire. The walls glittered with countless rubies, diamonds, pearls, amethysts, emeralds, and other precious stones; and lovely presences, arrayed in shining garments, moved noiselessly from place to place. "Where am I?" I ejaculated, half faint with wonder. And my hitherto unseen guide, who now revealed himself, softly answered, "In Heaven."
Thereupon my whole frame was agitated with inward laughter. I in Heaven, whose fiery doom had been prophesied so often by the saints on earth! I, the sceptic, the blasphemer, the scoffer at all things sacred, who had laughed at the legends and dogmas of Christianism as though they were incredible and effete as the myths of Olympus! And I thought to myself, "Better I had gone straight to Hell, for here in the New Jerusalem they will no doubt punish me worse than there." But my angelic guide, who read my thought, smiled benignly and said, "Fear not, no harm shall happen to you. I have exacted a promise of safety for you, and here no promise can be broken." "But why," I asked, "have you brought me hither, and how did you obtain my guarantee of safety?" And my guide answered, "It is our privilege each year to demand one favor which may not be refused; I requested that I might bring you here; but I did not mention your name, and if you do nothing outrageous you will not be noticed, for no one here meddles with another's business, and our rulers are too much occupied with foreign affairs to trouble about our domestic concerns." "Yet," I rejoined, "I shall surely be detected, for I wear no heavenly robe." Then my guide produced one from a little packet, and having donned it, I felt safe from the fate of him who was expelled because he had not on a wedding-garment at the marriage feast.
As we moved along, I inquired of my guide why he took such interest in me; and he replied, looking sadly, "I was a sceptic on earth centuries ago, but I stood alone, and at last on my death-bed, weakened by sickness, I again embraced the creed of my youth and died in the Christian faith. Hence my presence in Heaven. But gladly would I renounce Paradise even for Hell, for those figures so lovely without are not all lovely within, and I would rather consort with the choicer spirits who abide with Satan and hold high revel of heart and head in his court. Yet wishes are fruitless; as the tree falls it lies, and my lot is cast for ever." Whereupon I laid my hand in his, being speechless with grief!
We soon approached the magnificent temple, and entering it we mixed with the mighty crowd of angels who were witnessing the rites of worship performed by the elders and beasts before the great white throne. All happened exactly as Saint John describes. The angels rent the air with their acclamations, after the inner circle had concluded, and then the throne was deserted by its occupants.
My dear guide then led me through some narrow passages until we emerged into a spacious hall, at one end of which hung a curtain. Advancing towards this with silent tread, we were able to look through a slight aperture, where the curtain fell away from the pillar, into the room beyond. It was small and cosy, and a fire burned in the grate, before which sat poor dear God the Father in a big arm-chair. Divested of his godly paraphernalia, he looked old and thin, though an evil fire still gleamed from his cavernous eyes. On a table beside him stood some phials, one of which had seemingly just been used. God the Son stood near, looking much younger and fresher, but time was beginning to tell on him also. The Ghost flitted about in the form of a dove, now perching on the Father's shoulder and now on the head of the Son.